ByPat Moran | From the November-December 2021 issue of Strings magazine
Taking its title from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, the Apollo Chamber Players’ fifth studio album, With Malice Toward None, tackles politics, identity, and what it means to be a citizen of a nation balanced between an idealized past and a just and multicultural future.
The quartet, comprised of violist Whitney Bullock, cellist Matthew Dudzik, and violinists Matthew J. and Anabel Ramirez Detrick, employ a loose definition of politics. Some of the suites, like “Themes of Armenian Folk Songs,” are overt in their intent, in this case decrying genocide in the mournful, Armenian folk–based “The Crane.” Other pieces, like Pamela Z’s fractured “The Unraveling,” are open to interpretation.
Folk and roots music serve as this album’s set of musical building blocks. The title track, by African American composer J. Kimo Williams, nods to besieged Black identity through the blues as guest artist Tracy Silverman’s electric violin squawks and howls like a bent-note rock guitar.
For “The Unraveling,”Pamela Z draws on Joni Mitchell, the folk standard “Lord I’m One,” fingerpicking lessons, and her own busking days, as the quartet’s violins and viola trace spirals of shuddering ostinato and wheeze like concertinas.
Christopher Theofanidis and Mark Wingate’s “What Is the Word” sets a reading of Samuel Beckett’s titular poem, which documents the poet’s struggle with aphasia and a resulting fear of vanishing identity, to the quartet’s restless, start-stop patterns and cyclone spirals of tremolo. Whirlwind violins and viola entwine in Eve Beglarian’s “We Will Sing One Song,” a statement on immigrant identity and visibility that deconstructs the melody of Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home.” By song’s end, the Detricks’ violins have cut up and recapitulated Foster’s traditional tune, recasting it for a diverse and multi-ethnic generation.